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Froome virtually wraps up Tour de France

ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France — Chris Froome has two hands firmly on the Tour de France trophy. All that remains is for the British rider to raise it above his head before cheering crowds in Paris today.

The Team Sky rider retained his big race lead Saturday in the penultimate stage to ensure he will become Britain's second straight champion after Bradley Wiggins.

Only an accident or other freak mishap today on the largely ceremonial final ride to the Champs-Elysees could stop Froome from winning the 100th Tour.

"It's been an amazing journey for me, the race has been a fight every single day," Froome said at the winner's news conference that the Tour holds the evening before the final stage.

"This Tour really has had everything. It really has been a special edition this year."

Froome, who never looked troubled in the three-week race, finished third Saturday in a dramatic Stage 20 to the ski station of Annecy-Semnoz in the Alps that decided the other podium placings.

Nairo Quintana of Colombia won the stage and moved up to second overall. Joaquim Rodriguez from Spain rode in 18 seconds behind Quintana and moved up to third overall.

Froome's lead is more than five minutes over both of them.

Froome said only when he passed the sign showing 2 kilometers (about a mile) to go on the final steep uphill did he allow himself to believe he had won.

"It actually became quite hard to concentrate," he said. "A very emotional feeling."

Alberto Contador, who was second overall at the start of the day, struggled on that climb and dropped off the podium.

Saturday's 78-mile trek was the last of four successive stages in the Alps and the final significant obstacle Froome needed to overcome before today's usually relaxed ride to the finish in Paris. That 82-mile jaunt starts in Versailles, at the gates of its palace.

Froome's dominance at this Tour was such that his victory could be the first of several. At 28, he is entering his peak years. He proved at this Tour that he excels both in climbs and time trials, skills essential for winning cycling's premier race. He also handled with poise and aplomb questions about doping and suspicions about the strength of his own performances. He insisted he raced clean.

This Tour was the first since Lance Armstrong was stripped last year of his seven wins for serial doping. Froome said the scrutiny he faced has "definitely been a challenge" but was "100 percent understandable."

Whoever won this Tour "was going to come under the same amount of scrutiny, the same amount of criticism," he said. "I'm also one of those guys who have been let down by the sport."

Froome took the race lead and the yellow jersey that goes with it on Stage 8, when he won the climb to the Ax-3 Domaines ski station in the Pyrenees. On Stage 21, he will wear the yellow jersey for the 13th straight day.

Froome virtually wraps up Tour de France 07/20/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 20, 2013 7:25pm]
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